When Apple announced Beats 1℠, a live “radio station”, I had two instantaneous reactions:

  1. Really? The rest of radio is narrowing its focus, and Apple is targeting the entire planet with one “radio station”, and
  2. I can’t wait to see how crazy the radio and music industry blogospheres get with the news.

Then, I thought about a the latest hipthink that showed up in The Gray Lady recently: genres no longer matter. There’s only one thing wrong with this trendy new idea.

Genres never mattered in the first place.

Our use of the word “genre” to describe anything in entertainment, from “heavy metal” in music to “rom coms” in film is simply a reflection of the human need to label things in order to organize them within the mind. In reality, our fans have always consumed content in unique, unpredictable patterns that defy easy categorization.

For example, the writer of that NYT story that I linked to sees a sea change in music tastes arising because his kids listen to ’60’s folk, Maroon 5, Michael Jackson, and “a staggering range of singles from every era and genre.”  If you come out of radio – the business that’s been serving up music new and old to fans ever since Marconi (or Tesla if you’re a fan of Supreme Court patent decisions) – you’re quite aware that this is hardly a new phenomenon.

Oh sure, there are people that think like this:

[sc:youtubevideo videowidth=”320″ videoheight=”169″ videoid=”cSZfUnCK5qk” ]
They’re the rare exception. If you’ve ever been to the former Arbitron for that quaint process known as diary review, you’re used to seeing the handwritten documentation of people who do unique things like splitting their time listening to radio stations playing heavy metal, Christian music, country, sports talk, and a little smooth jazz. Adults and children have been listening to “a staggering range of singles from every era and genre” since there were multiple eras and genres of recorded music to listen to.

Of course, broadcast radio can’t program that way. Because every human being is unique, in any one radio market, there aren’t enough people who love, say, country and metal, to support a broadcaster. It’s only by being genre-consistent that a radio station can attract a large enough like-minded audience to sustain itself.

In our new media world – The Jetsons Future – where your potential audience is 7 billion minus whoever can’t access your content due to (1) lack of internet access or (2) local firewalling, narrowcasting works, but seemingly crazy coalitions can create sizable audiences too.

Meanwhile, within old-style genres, walls are falling. A prime example: country music – a genre once so insular that that gag from The Blues Brothers made perfect sense – now finds itself in a world where rap and metal are now accepted subgenres of the music. And frankly, if I were doing current-intensive rock radio a few years ago, I’d have played this “country song” without flinching.

Your “target audience” is not defined by demographic characteristics. It never really was, but in a world where your audience has a functionally infinite choice of entertainment content, your target is defined by mood.

That’s why Spotify recently launched Playlist Targeting. In their own words: “When users hit play on one of the billions of playlists on Spotify, they often signal a common activity or mood – like workout or chill.”

That leads to a simple question: When it’s time for you to create content – whether that content is a movie, a morning show, a monologue, or music* – do you think about your audience, or do you think about what your audience will be feeling at the moment that they experience your content?  *See what I did there? Apparently, I think that you’re in the mood for a little alliteration when you read this tripe.

What does this mean for Beats 1℠? Well, it sure is nice to see a company like Apple acknowledge the value of live, audio-only entertainment.

Will it change the business? Hardly. In a sea of webcasters, it’s one more voice. Sure, it’s a voice backed by a really big loudspeaker, but I’m not alone in doubting Apple’s ability to knock off Spotify (or anyone else for that matter).

Being backed by the biggest didn’t exactly help Google’s run at Facebook.

Sorry, did you think I was talking about Google Plus? Actually, I was thinking about Orkut, but now that you mention it…

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